ASIA TIMES online Hongkong-Bangkok <www.atimes.com> 27 August,2002
An entire region from Jordan to Iran is on the brink of catastrophe as it awaits one man's decision on how he will pursue his family' vendetta .India's former Ambassador to Jordan looks inside the Pandora's box which George Bush holds in his hands. Editor
The Bush family's phony wars
By K Gajendra Singh
Former Indian ambassador to Amman, Jordan
For the Bush family, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is the tempting Apple in the Middle Eastern Garden of Eden. The results of succumbing to the temptation to take a bite could be as disastrous as they were for Adam and Eve.
In 1991 George Bush Sr sought the removal of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. He failed and left the region in a mess. Now his son, President George W Bush, having inherited Dick Cheney and other chieftains from his father's presidency, is pursuing the family vendetta. Ordinary Iraqis continue to pay the price of this vendetta, with more than half a million children reported to have died from lack of medicines and malnutrition since the 1990 embargo. Iraq's US-friendly neighbors like Jordan and Turkey are suffering too. Even during the hiatus of Bill Clinton's presidency, Iraq was not spared: it was bombed whenever Clinton's popularity went down or he got deeper into the Monica Lewinsky mess.
It is difficult to know what to believe of the leaks regarding the US's current options to oust Saddam, ranging from assassination, fomenting a coup or internal rebellion, air strikes against Baghdad and other Iraqi command centers, to a vast amphibious invasion with massive air support, involving up to 250,000 soldiers. The latest plan, involving around 60,000 troops backed by heavy air power, will begin with a swift attack on Saddam's elite Republican Guards around Baghdad, in the hope that the regular Iraqi army would then abandon Saddam. Such balderdash. The result of any such actions could be as catastrophic as Adam and Eve's expulsion from the Garden of Eden. However, there is room for hope that worse may not come to worst: a saving grace of the US constitutional system of checks and balances is that Bush may be the most powerful man in the world, but he can't ignore Congress. And, however much George Bush Sr might hate Saddam, he would not want his son's presidency to end in disgrace.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, one of a few sane voices in the administration, remains opposed to a military strike just as he was in 1991, as it has no clear strategic objectives. Recent media leaks from the Pentagon and the State Department suggested that "many senior US military officers contend that Saddam Hussein poses no immediate threat and that the United States should continue its policy of containment rather than invade Iraq". Soon another leak countered that some in the Establishment favored an "inside-out" plan to "take Baghdad and one or two key command centers and weapons depots first, in hopes of cutting off the country's leadership and causing a quick collapse of the government". Such a plan was once dismissed by General Anthony Zinni, the US Middle East envoy, as a recipe for a "Bay of Goats" disaster, like the 1961 Bay of Pigs fiasco in Cuba. (Remember too the mess of Jimmy Carter's 1979 attempt to rescue US hostages in Iran.)
As Powell knows, there are no clearly defined strategic objectives for an attack on Iraq. Instead, Bush has his hands on a Pandora's Box that would release incalculable forces and consequences if he were to open it. One of these incalculables, for example, is Jordan's Prince Hassan. The prince's unexpected appearance at a mid-July Western-rigged assembly of disunited and disgruntled Iraqi opposition leaders led to speculation that he might even emerge as a new consensus ruler of post-Saddam Iraq.
King Abdullah of Jordan has himself repeatedly refuted reports that the US could use his country as a base for attacking Iraq, and furthermore has warned that an attack would further destabilize the region. This is also the consensus of many strategic analysts. But Hassan's cameo appearance remains intriguing. An intellectual, married to late Indian vice president M Hidayatullah's niece, Hassan was crown prince for decades. But just before his death, King Hussein - Hassan's elder brother - anointed his eldest son Abdullah, from his British wife, as the next king, and made another son, Hamza, from his American wife, the new crown prince, thus creating some emotional Anglo-Saxon vested interest in the perpetuation of the Hashemite dynasty. (The last Iraqi king, Feisel II, was Hassan's cousin and was assassinated after a military coup in 1958.)
Background and seeds of disputes
The Tigris and Euphrates basin has a turbulent history. The armies of Islam carved an empire from the Atlantic to China in the Seventh Century, and the Arabian peninsula became part of it. After Ottoman Sultan annexed the caliphate and guardianship of Mecca and Medina, the peninsula became a peaceful backwater until World War I. But when Turkey sided with Germany, Britain, to protect its Indian possession and the Suez Canal lifeline, encouraged Arabs under Hashemite ruler Sharif Hussein of Hijaj to revolt against the caliph in Istanbul (and deputed spy T E Lawrence to help out). The war's end did not bring freedom to the Arabs as promised; at the same time, by secret Sykes-Picot agreement, the British and French arbitrarily divided the sultan's Arab domains and their warring populations of Shi'ites, Sunnis, Alawite Muslims, Druse, and Christians. The French took most of greater Syria, dividing it into Syria and Christian-dominated Lebanon. The British kept Palestine, Iraq and the rest of Arabia.
When Sharif Hussein's son Emir Feisel arrived to claim Damascus, Syria, the French chased him out. So the British installed him on the Iraqi throne. When the other son, Emir Abdullah, turned up in Amman, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, dining in a Jerusalem hotel, reportedly drew on a napkin the borders of a new Emirate of Trans-Jordan, encompassing wasteland vaguely claimed by Syrians, Saudis and Iraqis.
Later, as Sharif Hussein (who wanted the Caliphate after Ataturk had abolished it) proved obdurate to the British viewpoint, Britain let Ibn Saud and his Wahhabis hound him out of Mecca. Britain also denied Kemal Ataturk's new Turkish republic the oil-rich Kurdish areas of Mosul and Kirkuk, now in northern Iraq. To thwart Germany posing a danger to India via the Berlin-Basra railroad, the British had earlier propped up oil-rich Kuwait, traditionally ruled by Ottoman pashas in Basra. This throttled Iraqi access to the Persian Gulf. Iraq became somewhat (though not fully!) reconciled to an independent Kuwait only in 1961.
By 1917 Britain's Balfour Declaration had also promised a homeland for Jews in Palestine. European Jews began emigrating to Palestine, and the trickle became a flood with the rise of anti-Semitic policies in Nazi Germany and elsewhere in Europe. After World War II, the state of Israel, carved out of British Palestine, was not recognized by the Arabs. The 1948 Arab-Israeli war allowed Israel to expand its area, while Jordan annexed the West Bank and Egypt took over Gaza. In the Six-Day War of 1967, Israel captured the West bank and Gaza. Thus were laid the foundations for most of the problems of the region.
Following the rise of Arab nationalism in the early 1950s led by Colonel Gamal Nasser of Egypt, socialists and nationalists, mostly military officers, took over the medieval kingdoms of Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya - much to the consternation of Western oil companies.
From its very inception, almost all its neighbors coveted Jordan. But astute King Hussein not only survived a dozen assassination attempts, he also fended off conspiracies against his land. When he died in 1999 of cancer, the kingdom had become a keystone of equilibrium in the region and a modern flourishing state, despite lacking oil and other resources. The sop of the Iraqi throne to Prince Hassan could just be another trick. But it is true that rulers in the region have patience and long memories. Even during the 1991 Gulf War it was put about that neutrality on the part of King Hussein could lead to his kingdom being parceled - but if he sided with the US, he might get parts of Iraq, which after all was once a Hashemite patrimony.
Palestinians make up 60 percent of Jordan's population (some Israeli leaders say that in Jordan Palestinians already have their own state). PLO militants and Palestinian army officers conspired against King Hussein (King Abdullah, his grandfather, was assassinated by a Palestinian in 1951), who expelled the Arafat-led PLO to Beirut in the early 1970s.
Jordan's business community relies heavily on transit and direct trade with Iraq, and still gets free oil from it. Thus, Prince Hassan's maneuver could cost a lot if Iraq so decides. Before the 1991 Gulf War, Saddam Hussein had promised full support to the Palestinian cause. During the war, King Hussein maintained neutrality despite Western pressure, anger and bad-mouthing. Palestinians and their leadership had fully supported Saddam in 1990-91, and Jordan's stand. But adroit King Hussein remained a major Arab player in a Middle East peace settlement and was brought from his death bed to bless the White House ceremony for the Arafat-Rabin accord. Some cynics say that Hussein never favored a powerful Palestinian state, and that suits Israel and the US. To survive in Amman, a Hashemite ruler has to be extremely nimble.
Gulf crisis and war, 1990-91
The US stumbled into the 1991 war without any strategic thought or planning. In fact, the West had supported Iraq's long war against Khomeini's Iran, and the US had granted loans to Baghdad worth billions of dollars. Amid high tension between Kuwait and Baghdad over common oil wells, two islands, and the return of a $10 billion loan, Iraq threatened Kuwait with war. A few days before the Iraqi invasion on August 2, 1990, US Ambassador April Glaspie told Saddam Hussein that his dispute with Kuwait was a bilateral Arab affair. This was never clearly refuted by the US and Ambassador Glaspie disappeared from view. The Western media never pursued her as they do others, and allowed themselves to become a handmaiden of the Western propaganda machine. (Later, they wrote little about the slaughter of retreating and surrendering Iraqi soldiers, and their credibility has declined further since then.) Meanwhile, all attempts to find a peaceful solution to the Iraq-Kuwait row by Arab nations, led by King Hussein of Jordan and later joined by King Hassan of Morocco, were rebuffed by the US, as was Kuwait's offer of indirect negotiations. Feelers for negotiations by the Saudis were drowned in Western cacophony. Saddam's reported offer to the UN secretary general to withdraw from Kuwait, made just before the US retaliation, was brushed aside. Efforts by Mikhail Gorbachev, who had just unraveled the USSR, were treated with disdain.
Post-1991 Gulf War scene
Bush had attacked Iraq in 1991 without informing the UN secretary general, undermining the world body and further diminishing it. For the countries of the region, the war resolved nothing. Instead, the US made Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other allies pay through the nose, weakening them by an estimated $100-$150 billion. Iraq was bombed into the Middle Ages. Its enemy Iran, now a joint member of the "Axis of Evil", was the major gainer. To guard his back, Saddam in 1990 had agreed to the old boundary with Iran in the Shatt-al Arab waterway, disagreement over which had led to the Iran-Iraq War.
US promises turned sour in the aftermath of the Gulf War. George Bush Sr, without consulting his allies, encouraged Iraqis, especially Kurds in the north and Shi'ites in the south, to revolt. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, most of which had large Shi'ite populations, were horrified, as a Shi'ite state in south Iraq would strengthen Iran. The prospect of independence for Iraqi Kurds worried Turkey, whose own Kurds were fighting for freedom. The hapless Iraqi Kurds, now protected by the US-UK enforced "no-fly zone", and the Shi'ites paid a terrible price. Tens of thousands were killed by Saddam's biological and other weapons. The Iraqi Kurds and Shi'ites still remember the false US promises. Both Kurdish factions in north Iraq have now expressed opposition to current US plans to attack Iraq.
Turkish President Turgut Ozal, seduced by US hints of winning "lost" Kurdish areas of north Iraq, had become an energetic supporter of the Bush coalition in 1990-91. He almost opened another front in the war against Iraq, but was prevented by stiff opposition from his powerful military. But instead of getting oil-rich Mosul and Kirkuk, the economic sanctions against Iraq and closure of the Iraqi pipeline via Turkey cost Ankara $50 billion in lost trade. Unemployment rose as the sanctions halted the 5,000 trucks that used to roar to and from Iraq daily, aggravating the economic and social problems in Turkey's Kurdish heartland of rebellion. A deputy prime minister once ruefully told this writer, "Mr Ambassador, you cannot trust the Americans, not even their written promises." A sobering thought for those who support the US blindly.
Iraq's emasculation made Israel feel bolder. Now Ariel Sharon wants Palestinians under Israel's heel. But the Palestinians, the most radicalized among Arabs, will not give up. Intifada was and is indigenous. (The PLO, now corrupted, just took the credit.) Arab and Muslim masses the world over watch what is happening in Palestine with great anger. This, and random US and UK bombing of Iraq, are among the reasons cited for the September 11 attacks on the US. Now, unlike 1991, the rage of the Arab masses could flush away many pro-US regimes.
Turkey's NATO Incirlik air base, used regularly to bomb Iraq, was also used by the US in its war in Afghanistan, after allies like Saudi Arabia had refused their bases. Turkey was also the first Muslim country to offer troops to fight against the Taliban and al-Qaeda, to help its ethnic Uzbek cousins led by Rashid Dostum. It had earlier supported the Northern Alliance against Mullah Omar's Pashtun Taliban and Osama bin Laden's Arab and Pakistani jihadis.
But watching how the Anglo-Saxons conducted their war in Afghanistan, often bombing civilians without catching the Taliban or al-Qaeda leadership, the Turks have had second thoughts. They were cajoled with money and other incentives to take over the leadership of foreign forces in Afghanistan from the British. In spite of its precarious financial situation and dependence on the International Monetary Fund, Turkey's political and military leaders now strongly oppose current US plans to attack Iraq.
Saddam's counter moves
Even now, a financially squeezed Saddam Hussein sends money to families of Palestinian suicide bombers. Iraq has normalized relations with most Arab states in the region, including Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. It has trade relations with Saudi Arabia, and its relations with Kuwait have thawed. Its foreign minister recently visited Algeria, Iran and Syria and met with Jordan's king.
The Beirut summit of Arab leaders last March rejected "threats of aggression" against Iraq, called for lifting of sanctions, and urged everyone to respect Iraq's independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. Saddam, disingenuously or not, has indicated willingness to talk about the return of UN weapons inspectors. United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan himself opposes renewed US attacks against Iraq.
Qatar - sympathetic to Iraq - officially opposes war, but the US has an air base at al-Udeid. The US also has bases in Saudi Arabia, which opposes their use. But clients and real estates in the Gulf and elsewhere can be bulldozed by US pressure or show of force.
Meanwhile, US and British special forces in Afghanistan have little to show from operations like Candor, Snipe, Anaconda, Mountain Lion etc. Al-Qaeda and Taliban have vanished into Pakistan and southern Afghanistan sanctuaries. The Northern Alliance entered Kabul in spite of US opposition and refuses to fully toe the US line. The Afghan regime, led by former Unocal employee Hamid Karzai but dominated by Tajiks, remains insecure. Afghanistan is returning to the days of pre-Taliban warlords. With his US bodyguards, Pashtuns now call Karzai "USA's Babrak Karmal".
It is difficult to trust the US, with its track record in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Somalia, Bosnia and Serbia. What will Pandora's Box reveal in Iraq? How will Iran and Turkey react in a free-for-all over Kurdish north Iraq? The US was unclear in its strategic aims in 1991 and still is in 2002. At least there was a solid coalition in 1991; now there is none except for British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose own people are opposed.
Opposition to US plans
France, Russia and China had opposed US-UK policies for expansion of no-fly zones over Iraq and other measures, and now want action though the UN. Iraq is Russia's old ally and owes it $8 billion. Russia has to worry also about a backlash among its large Muslim population. "Any attack would only be justified if a mandate was approved by the UN Security Council," President Jacques Chirac of France said after a recent meeting with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany. "That is the position of Germany and France." In his election speeches, Schroeder has clearly expressed opposition to US plans to attack Iraq. It is the position of most other countries.
Afraid that a new Security Council resolution would be vetoed by Russia or China, US officials claim that in view of Saddam's defiance of past UN mandates - including expulsion of UN weapons inspectors in 1998 - no further UN action is necessary. Saddam did expel UN weapons inspectors, but to claim that there is already a UN mandate for an invasion is untenable. According to the new Bush doctrine, an attack would be "pre-emptive self-defense". But this doctrine could be used to justify military adventurism from Chechnya to Palestine, or to bomb a schoolboy studying nuclear physics in Rameshwaram.
There is not even a casus belli. Unlike 1990-91, there is no clear-cut aggression. The US administration has failed to establish any link between Iraq and the September 11 attacks. Blair had promised proof but has not yet delivered. In fact, the fanatics who attacked America came from Saudi Arabia and Egypt, staunch US allies. No US bombs have fallen on these American protectorates. Instead, more than 5,000 civilians have been bombed to death in stricken Afghanistan.
There is no persuasive evidence that Iraq has rebuilt weapons facilities dismantled after the 1991 war. Even if Iraq has small stockpiles of lethal chemical and biological weapons and some Scud missiles, Saddam will use them only if attacked. Even obedient weapons inspector Richard Butler told the US Senate that there was no evidence that Iraq had passed weapons technology to non-Iraqi terrorist groups. Scott Ritter, another former UN weapons inspector in Iraq, has said that the US has not produced enough hard evidence to justify an attack. Rolf Ekeus, the Swedish arms inspector from 1991 to 1997, accused the US last month of manipulating the UN mission for its own ends. The US was more keen on tracking Saddam's whereabouts, which "could be of interest if one were to target him personally".
Saudi Arabia was misled in 1991 by doctored evidence of Saddam's intentions. The stationing of US troops on sacred Arabian soil after the war is resented by Arabs and Muslims all over the world. They also oppose oppressive pro-US Arab regimes and their siphoning off of oil wealth. After September 11, most Muslims see the Arab-Israel conflict and US plans to attack Iraq as part of Crusade versus Jihad. In Saudi Arabia, the union of corrupt princes and fanatical Wahhabis is already under strain. The Shah of Iran had a very powerful military machine but was forced to flee the aroused masses. Reports now emanating from the US say that Saudi Arabia should be treated as a US enemy because it supports jihadis all over the world. If necessary, its oil fields could be occupied. Anyway, after Saddam's replacement with a "democratic regime", Iraqi oil will be available as a replacement.
The morning after: Post-Saddam Iraq
What of the post-Saddam scenario? Who will run Iraq? In spite of Western belief, Saddam remains popular with the masses, who blame the embargo and frequent bombings for their misery. Given Iraq's 40-year history of repression, it is highly likely that blood will flow with the settling of old scores. And who would stop the Iraqi people turning against the occupying Americans?
What if a Shi'ite state based in Basra declared independence with covert support from Iran? North Iraqi Kurds, almost autonomous since 1991, could also declare independence, leaving a Sunni-dominated center. This could tempt Turkey to move into Mosul and Kirkuk. To keep post-Saddam Iraq united would need security forces of around 75,000, costing about $15 billion, for a year or two, and a force of more than 5,000 for many years after if the reconstruction effort is to succeed. But would the result be any different than in Afghanistan?
Most analysts scratch their heads, only to conclude that US options make little strategic sense. They feel that the leaking of "attack plans" are only psychological warfare. Their preferred option is to continue the existing policy of containment, combined with attempts to destabilize the Iraqi regime. A US attack could dangerously destabilize the region, harm the global economy, and infuriate Arab and Muslim masses. Former British chief of staff Field Marshal Lord Bramall, warned in a letter to the Times that an invasion would pour "petrol rather than water" on the flames and provide al-Qaeda with more recruits. He quoted a predecessor who during the 1956 Suez crisis said: "Of course we can get to Cairo, but what I want to know is what the bloody hell we do when we get there?"
The whole thing is only accentuating the image of the "Ugly American". A respected non-partisan US think tank, the Council on Foreign Relations, said in a recent report to the White House, "Around the world, from western Europe to the Far East, many see the United States as arrogant, hypocritical, self-absorbed, self-indulgent, and contemptuous of others."
Conclusion: Raging bull
With its vast military-industrial complex, the US needs constant conflict, ie, wars or near wars, to justify its staggering expenditure. The only superpower, with the most destructive power at its command in history, has pretensions to be an imperial power without the grace or obligations that go with it. After the stunning events of September 11, it is behaving like a raging bull, as if its manhood had been castrated. But the enemy al-Qaeda, with its tentacles around the world, remains free and hidden. Attacking Iraq would give the impression that the flagging "war on terror" is going somewhere. As Bush found in Afghanistan, whacking foreigners is popular with many Americans and wins votes. Iraq and hapless Iraqis would fit and foot the bill. Moreover, an attack would distract attention from financial scandals which threaten to enmesh both president and vice president. To many, it seems that the US administration represents but narrow corporate interests, and already, in this respect, the impending war seems to be going rather well.
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